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Crash Survivors Demand Action from DOT on Underride Guard Safety Controls

09/21/2023 17:05

The trucking industry is a vital component of the American economy, responsible for transporting an immense amount of goods across the country. However, with the sheer size and weight of commercial trucks, accidents involving them can be devastatingly fatal.

One of the most lethal types of truck accidents occurs when a passenger vehicle collides with the rear or side of a truck, and the vehicle becomes lodged underneath the truck's carriage. These accidents are referred to as underride collisions, and they often result in catastrophic injuries or fatalities.

To prevent these accidents, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has mandated the use of underride guards on commercial trucks. Unfortunately, some victims of underride collisions are alleging that the DOT is not doing enough to enforce its regulations related to underride guards.

In this blog post, we will explore the allegations made by crash victims against the DOT regarding underride guard report violations.

Several organizations are calling for an investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG)

Advocates for truck safety have called for an investigation into potential violations of ethics rules and federal law by regulatory authorities during cost-benefit assessments of crash protection equipment for truck trailers.

The Truck Safety Coalition, along with a coalition of truck crash victim advocates and victim family members, have submitted a letter to Eric Soskin, the Inspector General of the US Department of Transportation, requesting the probe.

The group has alleged that DOT officials may have engaged in misconduct by collaborating with the American Trucking Associations to suppress taxpayer-funded research on improving public safety in underride crashes involving large commercial freight trucks.

The organizations referenced a recent investigation conducted by ProPublica and PBS Frontline

According to their correspondence, in the years 2019 and 2020, the aforementioned news outlets brought to light the actions of DOT officials, who, under the guidance of ATA, expunged entire portions of a preliminary government report that evaluated technology aimed at safeguarding pedestrians, bicyclists, and other defenseless road users from fatal collisions with industrial freight trucks. Additionally, the officials in question also prohibited any mention of the term "regulation".

ProPublica has reported that a report published by the Department of Transportation's Volpe Center in 2020 underwent significant changes before its release. The report's key conclusions, including the recommendation to federal mandate side guards, were stripped out, and the report was shortened by almost 70 pages.

This has led to concerns from truck safety groups, who have warned that if these allegations are true, it could potentially constitute misconduct, conflict of interest, unethical conduct, and public corruption. These allegations are serious and require a thorough investigation to ensure transparency and accountability within the Department of Transportation.

The agency's mission is intended to prioritize safety in motor carrier transportation, as mandated by Congress during the DOT's "second founding" in 1999. Any actions that deviate from this mandate would be deemed an abuse of the agency's mission. The directive was put into effect to ensure that the Department would pursue the highest degree of safety in this particular sector, with the clear intent, encouragement, and dedication of Congress toward this objective.

How Did the American Trucking Association Responded

According to a spokesperson from the DOT OIG, they are currently reviewing a request made by safety groups and will provide further comment on the matter. The American Trucking Association (ATA) did not respond to requests for comment.

This request for investigation coincides with the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration's consideration of implementing a formal rule requiring side underride guards for truck trailers. However, an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) issued earlier this year by the agency found that the costs of such a mandate would far outweigh the benefits.

According to the Executive Director of the Truck Safety Coalition, Zach Cahalan, it is uncertain whether the recent report had any influence on the analysis that produced the side underride Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM). Nevertheless, Cahalan believes that the report highlights the Department of Transportation's inappropriate prioritization of industry lobbyists' financial interests over public safety. Interestingly, both the American Trucking Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association are against implementing side underride guard requirements due to concerns about costs and safety.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been considering various options for side underride protection guards over the past few years. However, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has expressed concerns that a federal mandate would be impractical and costly, outweighing any potential safety benefits. They argue that advancing such a mandate would ignore the safety, economic, and operational concerns of small-business truckers.

What Do Safety Groups Say

On the other hand, safety groups, including the National Transportation Safety Board and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, have criticized the NHTSA's Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on side underride guards. They believe that the NHTSA is significantly underestimating the number of lives that could be saved by implementing a side-guard mandate. It remains to be seen how the NHTSA will proceed with this issue.

Marianne Karth, an advocate for underride crash victims, recently visited Washington to honor those who have lost their lives in such accidents, including her own two daughters. During her visit, she expressed concerns about the analysis used in the ANRPM and called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to acknowledge its flaws. Karth also urged the Department of Transportation (DOT) to prioritize this issue and requested a meeting with Secretary Buttigieg to discuss the matter further. She emphasized the need for direct communication with the Secretary to ensure that these concerns are addressed at the highest level.

Karth has expressed her determination to have an "ombudsman-victim" advocate appointed to the DOT. The purpose of this appointment would be to represent the interests of victims and report any safety concerns to the DOT secretary. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has introduced legislation to prevent underride accidents, believes that NHTSA should implement stricter standards for rear guards and enforce the use of side guards on trucks and even commercial vehicles or commercial motor vehicles. She is committed to working with her colleagues to improve road safety for all road users.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, the issue of underride crashes and the need for improved safety controls on underride guards is a critical one. Crash survivors and advocates are demanding action from the Department of Transportation to ensure that these safety measures are put in place and enforced.

Crash tests can be conducted in collaboration with tractor-trailer, trailer manufacturers, labor organizations, and truck safety organizations to make sure safety regulations as well as federal regulations are followed. 

With continued efforts and advocacy, it is possible to make progress toward preventing these devastating accidents and protecting the lives of both trucking company drivers and passengers on our roads.

It is important that the DOT takes this issue seriously and works towards implementing these critical safety improvements as soon as possible.

If you want to stay updated with a wide range of trends, actionable insights, and innovative solutions in the trucking, freight, and logistics industry, stay connected to us.

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